A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Monday, October 4, 2010

SCBWI-AZ Conference Report, Part Two

Back to the land of the sun and the Arizona SCBWI conference...

The fourth speaker was Eve Adler, associate editor for Henry Holt. She listed some things that will draw her to acquire a manuscript. Her list included:

  • voice--emotional pull
  • quality of writing, especially dialogue
  • plot structure
  • characterization
  • an interesting topic that is original and fresh

She talked about the relationship between an author and editor and said the most important characteristic that an editor is looking for in an author is willingness to revise. (There's another blog post perculating on this subject, but that will have to be for later.) Other advice that she gave us was "trust your editor", and "take your time" (editors prefer writers who put a lot of thought into their revisions).

Eve gave away the secret to becoming your editor's favorite author, 1) patience, 2) eagerness to revise, 3) obey deadlines, 4) show appreciation (COOKIES!) and 4) be willing to market yourself.

Her last bits of advice were, "Come up with a great idea," "be aware of what's out there" and "write what you love."

Jill Cochran, from the Herman Agency was the only agent at the conference. She talked about how an agent chooses a client. She finds clients from the "slush pile" (unsolicited manuscripts), from referrals, and at conferences. She said she picks a project because she loves it, not just because she feels like she can sell it. One of her biggest bits of advice was:

Don't vent on-line!

Before she acquires a project, Jill said she searches the Internet for anything about the writer and anything the writer has put on-line.

She said that it's important to remember that rejection can be a good thing. A writer doesn't want someone who doesn't love the book, and personal tastes vary. And an agent and a client are a partnership--one doesn't work for the other. They're meant to work together.

Amelia Anderson, who is Senior Designer at Chronicle books spoke on "Book-Plus Publishing." She showed examples of illustrations that went beyond books into things like paper dolls and children's toys. It was very fun to see how a picture from a children's story book or an artistic style can be translated into so many different things. It was cool to see how artistic a book can be.

Once the speakers were done we broke into workshops. I wish I could have gone to all of them, but I had to chose two. I went to Eve Adler's "A Guide to Your Voice-Finding Journey" and Francesco Sedita's "Stop Over-Thinking and Just Write it Already."

In Eve's class we were asked to write the same scene--riding a bus--from three points of view. The first was from a kindergartner riding the bus for the first time, the second from a teenager-- "too cool to ride the bus" and the third from the bus driver. It was fun to see how a room full of writers interpreted each of the voices.

After we shared our writing, Eve showed examples from books like HUNGER GAMES and CATCHER IN THE RYE, that illustrated voice . We talked about how voice can immediately let you know what the character is like and even what the story is about.

Franscesco Sedita started his class by reading an excerpt from Sandra Cisneros' book THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, where the main character talks about her name. Then we had ten minutes to write about our name. I wrote about how having a common name like "Jennifer" (I had the same three Jennifer's with me all through grade school) made me want to try to be unique.

When we read our work out loud, the pieces ranged from funny, to poignant, to odd. Everyone had something to say about their name.

Franscesco's point at the end of the exercise--it was easy for us to write about our names. There were no blocks or inhibitions. "No one put down their pens until the end," he said. "When was the last time something caught you and you were able to write like that?"

He went on to talk about what blocks a writer, and what happens when we over-think our writing, and forget that we do it because we love it. For me this message was inspirational and just what I needed.

A first-look panel finished off the meeting. Brave writers and artists submitted their work to be evaluated by the faculty in front of the entire group (I was no one of those brave writers). It was interesting to see what the panel picked out, and what would have kept them from requesting a manuscript or art sample, based on the first page.

The only complaint I had about this conference was that the faculty was kept pretty separate from the "conference goers." I know that overzealous writers have been known to corner an editor in the bathroom or slip a manuscript under the stall door, but I think most writers are respectful enough to "pitch" only when it's appropriate.

I learned a lot from the conference and left feeling like I had recharged my "writer's batteries." Thank you to all of the staff for their presentations and for SCBWI-Arizona for organizing the conference. A huge thank you to Angela Morrison for letting me be her guest for the conference.

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